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The Literary Dram

A Spirit in one hand, a Book in the other

The Whisky:  Teerenpeli Kaski

The Book:  New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani

Finnish whisky? For a novel set in Helsinki? Written by an Italian, the man behind Europanto, an international auxiliary language invented to allow communication between people of different countries who do not share a common language. Makes perfect sense to me.


Golden dark amber, and rising from it a warm, sherry nose. Chocolate honey, with a bare whiff of smoke. For the palate, cheering, warming notes of dried fruit and spiced sherry. Easy-going but flavourful, youthful but becoming self-assured. Pleasing Finnish. (non-chillfiltered, no added colour, 43% abv)

Teerenpeli whisky  has a short history, only to 2005, with the distillery’s first release. Three years earlier, Anssi Pyysing, a restauranteur and brewery owner, imported two pot stills from Scotland and installed them in the cellar of his Restaurant Taivaanranta in Lahti. He matured the whisky in casks shipped to Finland from Speyside Cooperage. At first the production only found its way to his tables upstairs, but by 2009 it was being bottled for Finland’s state-owned liquor stores. Two years later saw it on shelves in Sweden and the UK, which is where I picked up this bottle.

This is the newest version of Teerenpeli, a turn beyond the standard 8-year-old bottling, a whisky matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Kaski, first released in 2012, uses sherry casks only. Both whiskies make use of top grade local barley and are lightly peated. Kaski has no age statement but is thought to have been matured for about six years.

A fine young dram it is, too. Whisky distilleries are popping up in Scandinavia and surprising the Scotland-centric whisky drinkers. Mackmyra in Sweden, which made an appearance in this blog some months back, has led the way. Good on them all. They are enriching the world of whiskies and having fun doing it.

And note the packaging. Seriously innovative.


It is no coincidence that author Diego Marani is a leading European linguist, inventor of a quirky language that has no grammatical rules and mixes together several European languages. (A joke in Europanto might begin “Zwei scozzeseman are bebiendo whisky dans een bar…”). Marani’s infatuation with language marks every page of his novel.

A sailor, beaten almost to death, has lost his memory. Discovered on a quayside in Trieste in 1943, he is led to think he is Finnish, but only because the doctor who examines him concludes he must be. After all “Sampo Karjalainen” is stitched on the sailor’s jacket.

New Finnish Grammar is a novel of language deprived of context. There is the hope that being sent to war-weary Helsinki will revive something in Sampo’s brain and trigger a return to a world he must have once known. But it turns out to be a failed hope. Despite the charismatic teacher who takes him under his wing, the nurse who falls in love with him, the encounter with a family who has lost a son with the same name, despite it all, nothing works. No reconnections made. Sampo Karjalainen remains unconvinced that Finland is where he belongs.

Diego Marani raises some profound questions. What are we without a past? Can an invented past serve as a real one? To what extent are we defined by language and culture?

Beautifully translated by Judith Landry, New Finnish Grammar has been a bestseller in Europe. To what does it owe its success? Perhaps  the reverse psychology of its banal title and the grey cover of the original English edition. Perhaps the fact that Finnish is such a hellish language to learn  — nouns might have 15 grammatical cases!

Very strong reviews helped. But it is my guess that it was word of mouth – in any number of languages. 


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